[Viewpoint] Leave it to the field commanders

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[Viewpoint] Leave it to the field commanders

Without a doubt, North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island is the most serious provocation since the truce was signed in 1953.

Kim Jong-il must be suffering from withdrawal.

What is the intention of and motivation for making an attack that will surely put the inter-Korean relationship into a worse situation? He has been addicted to the luxury he once enjoyed, but as South Korea and the United States no longer tolerate his rogue behavior and pressure him, he is kicking and struggling because this is the last fight.

Was it to establish a succession system for Kim Jong-un? Was it to show off Kim Jong-un’s military talent?

While some analysts are focused on the education Kim Jong-un received and his talents and characteristics, it is too early to conclude that Kim Jong-un is behind the attack. Kim Jong-il began a career in the party in 1965 and shared power with his father Kim Il Sung in the 1980s. By the 1990s, North Korea was under Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung’s regime.

Compared to the rise of his father as heir to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un is still under the wings of Kim Jong-il, no matter what his current title might be. It is safe to assume Kim Jong-il plans and decides everything.

Then what is Kim Jong-il aiming for? It is the brinkmanship tactic we have grown so familiar with by now.

Pyongyang cannot hold on any longer, so it attempts to provoke the South, forcing the Lee Myung-bak administration to change course.

In order to show off what they are capable of, North Korea is not shy to take the most extreme choices. As time passes, memories will fade and we will only be left with the fear that if you mess with North Korea, you never know what they will do. There are politicians in the South defiantly asking if we want to go to war with North Korea. That’s exactly what Kim Jong-il is calculating.

Kim Jong-il wants to pressure the United States to come to the six-party talks again. It is advantageous for Pyongyang to begin the discussion with the establishment of a system of peace in the Korean Peninsula.

The same intention can be found when Pyongyang unveiled a new uranium enrichment facility. Pyongyang is trying to encourage the public that Washington has no choice but to come to a nuclear disarmament meeting. In the past 10 years, Pyongyang has been causing American scholars and journalists to have a pro-Seoul stance due to its shocking provocations.

How should we, South Koreans, respond to the menace?

First, we should allow no distance between South Korea and the United States. We need to resolutely keep the original position of not having a meeting for a meeting’s sake. Second, ruling and opposition politicians should be united and respond together. We cannot afford to have another division as we suffered in the aftermath of the Cheonan incident. Third, military readiness must be flawless and complete. The armed forces should respond immediately according to the rules of engagement and follow the principle of proportion to retaliate as much as we suffer.

When these principles are not undermined but become more solid, Kim Jong-il will be contained and the inter-Korean relationship will stand on its own.

The latest crisis is a war. It is not a full-scale war but a localized and limited war. When we are at war, it is very urgent to have a proper war command system and an operations command. Once an operation begins, it has to be concluded in the field. The UN and the UNC Military Armistice Commission will be the doctors.

ROK forces are responding properly, but the problem is the war command system. The commander in chief needs to make clear orders. The president said, “Respond resolutely but prevent escalation of the war.”

President Lee was right about a resolute response, but his order to “prevent escalation of the war” could be problematic. Just as the late President Kim Dae-jung’s order to not make a pre-emptive attack, Lee should be more careful, as such an order would limit the discretion of the field commanders.

The highest man in charge of the operation is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It would be advisable that the president does not appear in the military command headquarters unless absolutely necessary.

When the defense minister is not present at the headquarters, all operational elements and systems work smoothly. If the chairman has to attend to the president or the minister, generals will be affected as well.

Also, the foremost principle of a war is “a unified command,” so no confusion in the line of command is allowed.

We will have a silver lining if citizens and politicians learn from that there is so much for the government and the armed forces to improve on in order to carry out a war.

*The writer is a retired army general and a former director of policy bureau at the Ministry of National Defense.

By Kim Guk-heon
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